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Noble intentions

A chance meeting with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and her latest high-profile film part mean the girl from Glanmire is now perfectly placed to pick and choose her future roles

When Sarah Greene reminisces about the past year, she can scarcely believe her good fortune. “I was a nobody from Cork,” she says. In June, the actress was at the Tony awards, Broadway’s answer to the Oscars, where she was nominated for her role in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan. After the ceremony, where she failed to collect a gong, the crowd parted and Harvey Weinstein approached with his entourage.

“My money’s on you,” said the heavyweight producer. “Harvey, I’ve lost,” she replied in her Cork brogue. Weinstein, who previously landed Greene a screen test with Jake Gyllenhaal, was not bothered. “I’m going to put you in the movies,” he announced.

The next day, he took her out for dinner. “He asked me what I wanted to do,” she recalls. “I was honest. I said, ‘I want to make some money now. It’s about time.’ He looked shocked. He said, ‘Really? No one has ever said that.’ I said, ­‘Theatre is what I love doing and I would do it forever more, but I want to make some money so I can choose shows I want to do.’ ”

After cutting her teeth on the Irish stage with roles in the Druid Theatre Company, and on screen in films such as The Guard, acting is starting­ to pay off for the girl from Glanmire. She recently started work on ­Showtime’s horror series Penny Dreadful, which is filming in ­Ireland. Weinstein stayed true to his promise and cast her in a film with Bradley Cooper, in which she plays a restaurant manager. She spent a ­couple of days last week serving dinner to Uma Thurman — perhaps the first actress, not out of work, to do so in some time.

Noble intentions

“It’s been fairly intense, all right,” she says, drumming her fingers on a table in a Dublin beer garden. “I’m still pinching myself, going, ‘This is happening.’ I’m very happy with the way my career has gone. Working with amazing [theatre] ­directors: Garry Hynes, Lynne Parker. That was my training. I feel like it’s an apprenticeship and you earn your stripes. When you come from theatre, you can kind of do anything. Theatre teaches you discipline. You work with great actors, often for no money. Now I’m finally making a bit of money, which is nice.”

Despite her career ascent, few projects have made Greene quite so proud as Noble — and this one is not about the money. The film is a biopic of Christina Noble, a Dublin-born humanitarian who helps thousands of street children in Vietnam and ­Mongolia through her charitable foundation. ­Deirdre O’Kane plays Noble in her later years; Greene depicts the campaigner in an earlier, particularl­y harrowing, stage of her life.

After Noble’s mother died, she and her siblings were shuffled off to Irish religious institutions where they were subjected to all manner of horrors. Each one was told the others were dead. After her release, Noble spent time living homeless. “A lot of the story we didn’t tell because it’s so dark,” says Greene. “You have to read her book [Bridge Across My ­Sorrows]. I was quite shocked when I read that after reading the script. I rang [director] Stephen Bradley to ask why a lot of that was left out. He said, ‘Because this is a hopeful story and if you go down that road, it’s very hard to come back.’ ”

Greene felt a responsibility in taking on the role, and planned accordingly. In early 2013, she ­travelled to Vietnam where she spent time with the cast and crew during O’Kane’s chapter of the story. She met Noble and visited the foundation and state ­orphanages, where infants still suffer the effects of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used by ­Americans during the ­Vietnam War. Greene recorded O’Kane reciting her lines to create ­consistency. Then she travelled to Liverpool to shoot her part of the story.

The release of Noble is the culmination of a remarkable year. It all began last Christmas, when her agent told her that The Cripple of Inishmaan was going to Broadway. The show was already a hit on London’s West End, garnering Greene an Olivier nomination for her role as small-town bully Slippy Helen. At the time, she was working on Vikings, another US production shot in Ireland. Greene dropped the part.

“I’m a theatre actress,” she says. “It’s my first love. Another actress has come into Vikings and [taken] over. I lost the part, but I didn’t mind. It all works out in the end.” She had previously been to New York in 2010, to perform in Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, and always wanted to live in the city for a longer stretch. Greene lived in an apartment in the South Street Seaport area of Manhattan, near Brooklyn Bridge. “It was away from Times Square [where Inishmaan played]. I got the subway to work every day. I settled in much more to New York than I did in London.”

Greene believes she was born to play the role. She was gutted when she wasn’t seen for the part in Garry Hynes’s 2009 production of the play. ­“Honestly? I was too young then. I wasn’t experienced enough to play with what I brought to the character this time around.” Which was? ­“Fierceness.” In the story, Slippy torments the ­village cripple Billy Claven, played by Daniel ­Radcliffe. The New York audience was comprised of a lot of Harry Potter fans, who were quite vocal about Slippy’s treatment of the former boy wizard.

“At one stage Billy asks Helen on a date and she says, ‘What would I go out with a cripple boy for?’ A man in the audience shouted out, ‘Oh for God’s sake!’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘I can hear you. If you can hear me, I can hear you guys.’ [The audience] think they’re at the cinema at times.”

During her time in New York, Greene encountered another pop culture titan. Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, attended the opening night of the show and took a shine to the actress. Wintour styled her for the Met fundraising ball and photographed her for the September issue of Vogue. “Everyone is terrified of Anna,” she says. “You don’t cross ­Harvey Weinstein either. He was around on set last week and I heard him shouting and roaring down the phone at somebody. Oh God, it was like the wrath of Weinstein.”

All this is far from her 2006 debut, The Empress of India in Galway Town Hall. Greene did not have a speaking part, but wanted to work with Druid. “I knew this was the way to go about it: get a foot in the door and stay there. I subsequently worked with Druid for two years.”

Greene went on to work in local TV such as Raw, Eden and Bachelor’s Walk. In 2009, she landed a lead role in Love & Savagery, a romantic drama that no one saw. In Alice in Funderland, she played a girl on a hen night who disappears down a psychedelic rabbit hole. The musical, staged at the Abbey, gave her a chance to flex her vocal muscles. She also sings in Noble and gives a rendition of traditional ballad The Parting Glass at the end of videogame Assassin’s Creed IV, in which she voices the character of a Cork pirate queen. These days, Greene receives about seven script offers a week. She’s now in a position where she can choose what she wants to do. Celebrity status, however, is not on the agenda.

“The minute you open yourself to that, the more they want from you,” she says. “I have a private life and I want that to be private. I look at Daniel Radcliffe­ and think that is not something I would like. The odd time in New York you find people taking­ pictures of you. It’s really rude. My boyfriend [Irish actor Aidan Turner] was on the Tube and ­people started taking pictures of him asleep. It’s like, ‘Ask for a photo if you want a photo.’ Everyone is paparazzi these days.”

Greene hopes to emulate Christina Noble. Making this film changed her; it gave her empathy for those in need. “Before I would have ignored it, or tried to run away from it. Now I let myself see it and be affected by it. We’re good at turning a blind eye.”

Perhaps the film also gave her the confidence to stand her ground with heavyweights such as ­Weinstein and Wintour. Like Noble, Sarah Greene is nobody’s fool.

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